By KEN WIWA
Saturday, May 18, 2002
The Assurini lived in nomadic isolation until 1971, when the Transamazon road cut through their land. Contact forced them to settle in a permanent village and their population decreased to dangerous levels, getting down to 39 people by the end of the 1970s.
Malaria, tuberculosis and influenza decimated most of the male population. This, plus the psychological shock of contact and forced settlement crippled their morale. For a decade the Assurini refused to have children. Women provoked abortion for fear of making future children suffer.
The group began to grow again in the late 1980s and the tribe now has its own reserve of more than 374,000 hectares. The tribe has no leader. It is the only group where women and men have equal rights. Decisions are truly collective. It is not known whether this is because the whole group nearly collapsed or if they have always been a equal-rights society.
There are many old women in the tribe and they are very active. In 1994 the Assurini built their first traditional house in their village. It is called the House of the dead. It is a large communal house and the tribe lives alongside the remains of their dead, which they have transported from their previous settlements.
The population is growing steadily and there are now 99 Assurini.
The vice-president of the Amazoncoop is an Assurini Indian, Myra Assurini.
The Assurini have been the most active group within the Amazoncoop, taking key roles at Tataquara.